National Register historic districts are broken down into labeling the buildings inside them into three categories. The first is contributing, indicated by a “C” in which buildings are added that are fifty years old or older that have retained their architectural integrity to some varying degree. They may be historical, as in being simply ‘old’ or they may be actually historic, in which either the architecture is very distinctive or an historical event or events occurred within its walls that contribute to the National Story of America. The second category is intrusive, indicated by a “INT”- which may simply mean a building that is less than fifty years old. The third category is MC which stands for an historical building that has so been stripped of its distinctive original architecture that it has basically become unrecognizable. Recently, some new owners of an historic building on Water Street took a Greek Revival and turned it into a featureless rectangular box. (And this is supposed to enhance property values!?!) There are, unfortunately, examples of these all around town.
But by and large, most of the structures within the Newburyport Historic District are contributing or intrusive.
In the past, the Newburyport Historical Commission, would receive a demolition 0r partial demolition request, check the National Register listing, note the building’s designation and, if not severely compromised, make a decision if a demo-delay should be imposed or at least try to persuade the owner to preserve at least to some degree the exterior architectural features.
But now, the DCOD is in charge for all properties within the historic district and the deliberation is in the hands of the ZBA. The main role of the Zoning Board of Appeals is to make exceptions to the zoning based on a whole range of ‘hardships’. When the demo-lawyers appear before the board, this will be the major thrust of their ‘arguments’ why they should be allowed to proceed with a demolition. Our thrust is to defeat those ‘arguments’ and thus stop the demolition.
Fortunately, the DCOD and the rules of the National Register, though certainly not perfect have lots of hidden tools by which to make an appeal to the appeals board; or to make an appeal on the decision made by the appeals board. Therefore, it behooves them to be careful, so they won’t be looking embarrassed, and it behooves us to do our homework so we won’t be discouraged when a decision is made negatively.
It’s much like a chess game but instead of pawns, our historic and historical buildings are at stake.
Next post, “the slippery slope of sliding scales.”